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"Spontaneous Combustion"
by [?]

Kennedy and I had risen early, for we were hustling to get off for a week-end at Atlantic City. Kennedy was tugging at the straps of his grip and remonstrating with it under his breath, when the door opened and a messenger-boy stuck his head in.

“Does Mr. Kennedy live here?” he asked.

Craig impatiently seized the pencil, signed his name in the book, and tore open a night letter. From the prolonged silence that followed I felt a sense of misgiving. I, at least, had set my heart on the Atlantic City outing, but with the appearance of the messenger-boy I intuitively felt that the board walk would not see us that week.

“I’m afraid the Atlantic City trip is off, Walter,” remarked Craig seriously. “You remember Tom Langley in our class at the university? Well, read that.”

I laid down my safety razor and took the message. Tom had not spared words, and I could see at a glance at the mere length of the thing that it must be important. It was from Camp Hang-out in the Adirondacks.

“Dear old K.,” it began, regardless of expense, “can you arrange to come up here by next train after you receive this? Uncle Lewis is dead. Most mysterious. Last night after we retired noticed peculiar odour about house. Didn’t pay much attention. This morning found him lying on floor of living-room, head and chest literally burned to ashes, but lower part of body and arms untouched. Room shows no evidence of fire, but full of sort of oily soot. Otherwise nothing unusual. On table near body siphon of seltzer, bottle of imported limes, and glass for rickeys. Have removed body, but am keeping room exactly as found until you arrive. Bring Jameson. Wire if you cannot come, but make every effort and spare no expense. Anxiously, Tom Langley.”

Craig was impatiently looking at his watch as I hastily ran through the letter.

“Hurry, Walter,” he exclaimed. “We can just catch the Empire State. Never mind shaving–we’ll have a stopover at Utica to wait for the Montreal express. Here, put the rest of your things in your grip and jam it shut. We’ll get something to eat on the train–I hope. I’ll wire we’re coming. Don’t forget to latch the door.”

Kennedy was already half-way to the elevator, and I followed ruefully, still thinking of the ocean and the piers, the bands and the roller chairs.

It was a good ten-hour journey up to the little station nearest Camp Hang-out and at least a two hour ride after that. We had plenty of time to reflect over what this death might mean to Tom and his sister and to speculate on the manner of it. Tom and Grace Langley were relatives by marriage of Lewis Langley, who, after the death of his wife, had made them his proteges. Lewis Langley was principally noted, as far as I could recall, for being a member of some of the fastest clubs of both New York and London. Neither Kennedy nor myself had shared in the world’s opinion of him, for we knew how good he had been to Tom in college and, from Tom, how good he had been to Grace. In fact, he had made Tom assume the Langley name, and in every way had treated the brother and sister as if they had been his own children.

Tom met us with a smart trap at the station, a sufficient indication, if we had not already known, of the “roughing it” at such a luxurious Adirondack “camp” as Camp Hang-out. He was unaffectedly glad to see us, and it was not difficult to read in his face the worry which the affair had already given him.

“Tom; I’m awfully sorry to–” began Craig when, warned by Langley’s look at the curious crowd that always gathers at the railroad station at train time, he cut it short. We stood silently a moment while Tom was arranging the trap for us.